Jonathan Michael Ray

2021 National Sculpture Prize | Finalist

Serpentine stone and enamel paint

A hidden message

The piece is made from a raw block of serpentine stone, from the Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall. This stone has been cut in half, polished, engraved and gilded on both of the cut surfaces. The jumbled texts—taken from protest slogans and media headlines from throughout the year 2020—are mirrored, like the words within a stick of seaside confectionary rock. The two halves are positioned so as to suggest the boulder was split on impact, revealing its hidden message for the first time, millions of years from now.

serpentine stone sculpture, gilded text carved into 2 faces of a cut boulder

A stone of mother earth

This serpentine rock from Cornwall represents remnants of an ancient ocean floor and the Earth’s mantle, thrust up to form what is now the most southerly part of mainland Britain. The rock formations of the Lizard peninsula make-up one of the most interesting suite of rocks in Britain, and a Pre-Cambrian age (older than 600 million years) has been assigned to them. Spiritually, Serpentine is highly regarded as a stone of Mother Earth, rebirth and creation, and the Cornish variant has a unique dark red, brown and black colouring, which appears like marble when polished to a wonderfully deep sheen.

Like the veining of the stone itself, which is mirrored on the cut surfaces, messages are engraved and gilded onto the two sides. One side is readable while the other is reversed.

The layered words and phrases are difficult to read at first, but with closer inspection some texts become clear and the viewer may decipher meaning from the tangle of letters. These protest slogans, political statements and media headlines appeared around the world and throughout the year of 2020.

A layer in time

2020 has been one of most extraordinary and challenging years in recent history. Just as human beings create an impact on their physical surroundings, the ferocity of the events of this year will also leave their mark. But as time goes by, 2020 and all it contained, will become just another layer in time. Perhaps one day—in approximately another 600 million years—a record of this year may be rediscovered and quizzically examined by another being. Imagine they decide this mysterious discovery is of some importance. They may display these findings in a way, just as we do with fossils or stone age memorials within our museums and encyclopaedias.

In his words...

“Comprising of video, photography, sculpture, print and drawing, much of my art practice is deeply connected to my surroundings. I examine the multilayered histories, fictions and beliefs assigned to artefacts, materials and the places I encounter.

Whichever medium I work in, there are often elements of collage and assemblage are present. I regularly use found objects and images, as well as material direct from the landscape, appropriating their symbolism while creating a new context and meaning.

By layering and combining material, I am interested in looking beyond the surface of a purely physical existence and breaking down the institutions by which we are taught to see and experience the world.”